Recently, I had been mindlessly scrolling through my Barnard inbox before a class when I opened President Rosenbury’s Welcome to the 2023-24 Academic Year Address. “In the coming weeks, we will have a moment to celebrate the start of the academic year with our 2023 Convocation on Monday, September 18, at 4:30pm,” wrote Rosenbury in her Sept. 5 message. “This ceremony is one of Barnard’s most enduring traditions, as it marks the beginning of the academic year, celebrating all new and returning students. All members of the Barnard community are invited.”
Although I am a senior, I only attended Convocation once during my sophomore year. I had just transferred to Barnard that fall from the University of Vermont. Convocation was something widely advertised to us newbies in seemingly every interaction with class deans and NSOP leaders. Are you going to Convocation? It’s a great way to meet the Barnard community!, encouraged these cheery spokespeople of the school. At the time, I figured, why not? I hardly know anyone, and so I gathered together a sparse group of the few people I had met during orientation to go with.
Though filing into a pew had not been the ideal friendship building activity I had in mind, I remember sitting and waiting in Riverside Church for the ceremony with a sense of hopefulness about the connection I would build my second time around at college. What followed was the usual pomp and circumstance of this opening to the academic year: alumni carrying banners dating back to the first graduating class of 1893 being walked swiftly down the aisle, important looking women I didn’t know the names of wearing gowns and tassels, and lots of what seemed to be Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Though a little dry, everything had been going more or less as expected for me until former President Sian Beilock’s student address. She was to call out each group of students being represented in the audience and we were to stand for a moment of recognition and round of applause. When she called out “transfers”, I stood hesitantly, looking at the administrators, deans, and presidents up on the altar who clapped proudly in response. I found myself angry. Where was that welcoming energy for transfers when we were accepted into Barnard and you denied us guaranteed housing?, I thought, a deep red growing inside of me like the color of my designated class t-shirt I had on.
As Barnard writes on the Applications & Assignments page on their website, under the “Visiting and Transfer Students Housing” tab conveniently tucked on the bottom of the page, “campus housing is limited and cannot be guaranteed, students are encouraged to explore options for off-campus housing in the event that campus housing is not available.” Upon simply opening my acceptance letter, a moment which should have been one of unfettered excitement was paused by the asterisks of this policy. “Wait, wait,” my Dad said, reading that housing was not guaranteed after the “Congratulations” you have been admitted.
After several email communications with Barnard Residential Life, the process was explained to me as follows; Barnard relies on housing cancellations over the summer from current students in order to place transfer students. Placement is dependent upon your parents home’s proximity from the college as well as how quickly you pay the deposit to reserve a spot. Then, a form will be sent out to you so that you might be considered for selection which is released in early August. Even worse, even if you are placed in housing after all of these considerations, you are still not guaranteed for your following years at Barnard, and will be asked to fill out a non-guaranteed student housing application.
This information dictated the way that I spent that summer before school. For a while, my parents had wanted me to pick another college I had been accepted to due to the housing issue. They hadn’t factored in navigating the commitment of New York City apartments. I completely understood their position. Generously, however, they agreed to let me send in my deposit in spite of this. So, from my bedroom in North Carolina, I frantically researched for apartments in a housing market I was completely unversed in in case I didn’t get housing. Expressing interest, and my situation of how I may or may not continue with the unit to landlords also became a problem due to the city’s quick turnaround dates on units. If I was denied housing come August 1, I’d only have a matter of days to set up a living situation for myself remotely before the school year began.
Additionally, there was also this problem of roommates. I knew nobody in New York. Despite the development of a Facebook group page where transfers could form living arrangements, it was almost impossible to predict which roommates would get housing and have to back out of a potential lease. Even more headache was figuring out guarantors and apartment application work online with strangers.
Though I was fortunate enough to receive housing and my parents financial support in the case that I’d have to find something off-campus, too many did not. Such a process precludes many excellent students from coming as they simply cannot afford this guessing game. It is an elitist and out of touch assumption to expect students and families of students to remotely scramble last minute (often internationally) in navigating one of the most expensive and fast paced real estate markets in the world. Not only is it sending the message that we are second best to those picked in regular admissions cycles in that our housing is contingent on theirs, but it isolates the transfer student in not being able to make these essential first year dorm friends. Come time, these transfers as upperclassmen will also be excluded from adding themselves to the housing lottery that their non-transfer friends are wanting them to join so that they might live together.
To me, the celebration of transfers at Convocation, and the stressing of community at the event comes off as disingenuous until Barnard fixes the inequitable and unsustainable problem of transfer housing. We cannot confidently come together until everyone at Barnard has access to guaranteed and affordable housing. If we have a home at Barnard, then we should have a home at Barnard.